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  • bob@smsrd.com
  • 800-272-0887

Author Archives: Bob Dumouchel

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Marketing-Strategy-Team

Marketing Teams & Operations

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Business success or failure is tightly related to the strength of its teams and the marketing team is often on the front edge of that sword. To build an effective marketing team you need a variety of experts that work effectively together. An effective digital marketing team will need at least 5 different skillsets to make the magic happen. So here they are:

  • Strategy
  • Content
  • Advertising
  • Conversation
  • Analytics

Each of these teams requires a different skillset and a person that is great in one might be a failure in another. Let’s explore the roles of these teams and the skills they need.

STRATEGY

This team needs to start with a representative from the Executive Management Group and the higher up the better. In a small business, this is typically the CEO or Owner and even if they know nothing about marketing they HAVE to be on the team. A strategy team without a representative from the executive group is very likely to fail. This does not mean that the executive has to become a marketing expert but they have to engage in the process. Many small businesses are owned and run by technical experts that lack the marketing skills. However, they bring to the team an understanding of and unquestioned loyalty to the business. This team can be subdivided into committees to deal with the detailed planning of specifics.
The strategy needs to answer these broad questions:

  • Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with?
  • Messages – What are we going to say?
  • Campaigns – When are we going to be in market?
  • Channels – Where are we going to be?
  • Performance – Why are we doing this?
  • Budget – How much are we going to invest?

I am sure most will instantly see the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How structure used for building a strategy. The challenge here is that these stages have many relationships that can be very difficult to document and think through.

Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with? This is a more complex question than many think. The simple answer is that you want to talk to customers and prospective customers but it is way more involved. The challenges are that communication is sloppy, messages between audiences can work against each other and channels overlap. Audiences evolve through stages of suspect, prospect, customer, client, and evangelist (aka Brand Advocate) and the communication evolves as the relationship does. The key thing is to know who we are talking to so we know how to talk. For each audience, we recommend building a persona that the planning groups can refer to in the later planning processes. It is much easier to remember a persona if you give them a name, image, and profile. At this stage, you need to gather some basic data on these audiences. At a minimum, get the number of people at each stage because one truth that will shortly be in front of you is that there is always more market to reach than there is budget to reach that market. This means that you are going to have to make priority decisions and the potential of each audience is a critical item in the thought process.

One sign that you have an audience problem is when someone says “Everyone is our customer” and even if this were true – and it never is – you still have to develop messaging that moves the person to action and that requires a defined audience.

Messages – What are we going to say? The marketing messages are independent of the audiences but they are assigned to the audiences. Over the years, we have discovered that many planning groups work better if they focus on an audience and then develop messages for that persona. As you move to subsequent audiences, the pace will pick up because you can assign already developed messages to the new group and discuss only what is different about messaging to that group.
In the old days, messages were largely one direction but social media changed that in a big way. Today messages are part of a two way conversation with the market and that means that all customer facing staff have to know these messages and who they are intended for.

Campaigns – When are we going to be in market? Armed with the audiences we want to communicate with and the messages we want to deliver, the next phase is putting them into campaigns and detailing out the specifics of budgets, content, specific performance goals, and other channel specific details. Campaigns ultimately are what bring audiences, messages, and channels together with performance goals.

Channels – Where are we going to be? This is a simple inventory of the channels that the strategy intends to use and every possible channel needs to be explored. There is no reason to be in every channel or every placement within the channel but you do have to consider it. Much of the research here is use by competitors, audience match to your audiences, and effectiveness of the placements. At a minimum, you need to consider search, display, remarketing, and social placements.

Performance – Why are we doing this? Performance is the reason we do all of this and it is what brings us back to the strategy. Within the strategy, we established goals for the various campaigns and in the performance we are checking to see what really happened and make adjustments as needed. Performance is not without its challenges and the first is that measurements in marketing are never perfect nor are they simple linear processes. We would all like to have an action to reaction relationship but the reality is that there are multiple actions to a reaction and the number of these varies greatly. There are many, including myself, that believe that action to reaction can be as high as 20. This means that for any one specific reaction, there could be 20 contributing actions that were taken.

Budget – How much are we going to invest? This is always one of the tough items in any plan. The answer to this is almost always the same. You want to spend as little as possible but as much as necessary.

CONTENT

Content is king and creating it is magic or so many would like you to think. There is no question that the team in this area has to be insanely creative with the ability to create visual and textual content that communicates the messages to the audience. While this has never been my strength, it is certainly one that I appreciate; when it is done right. The challenge sometimes is keeping the creative in-line with the strategy. One item that is very different in digital marketing (as opposed to print) is that the creative can be tested in the market to see if the message resonates with the audience.

ADVERTISING

Advertising is the blocking and tackling of the process. With the channels and budgets decided on, the goal of this team is to take care of the details. Digital advertising is very different than conventional placement in that the key is to run the system properly and keep the audience on target. This task is about running a fairly complex computer system to get maximum output from it. The team here tends to be strong on math and system process mechanics.

CONVERSATION

Conversations have always been part of marketing but social media has made them much more important and have changed the nature of these conversations. No longer is a conversation between the parties involved in the dialog because it now includes the thousands or even millions that will observe the conversation. An exchange with a prospect on Facebook can easily go viral resulting in millions of impressions for an offhand remark. This part of the team normally will fall to the customer service and sales department, which means getting them on board with the audiences and messages is now critical. Social media can be thought of as the dinner networking meeting of today only with an unlimited audience attending.

ANALYTICS

Analytics is an area that has existed in marketing since the first ad was run and someone wanted to know what it did. What has changed is that the depth of the data has increased and with that came some good things and some new challenges.

  • On the positive side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.
  • On the negative side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.

It is very easy today to bury decision makers in data while they starve for actionable information. The real magic in Analytics is reading the tea leaves and transforming data into information. You have to be very careful today with what you think you know and what specific data actually means. The Analytics team is responsible for transforming this data and feed the information back to the strategy team that can make adjustments in the direction of the business. This is typically done on a regular schedule and we recommend no more than one month between these cycles.

SUMMARY

In closing, you need smart people with different perspectives to the challenges that your business will face. In strategy, you need broad thinkers with a handle on the mission and goals of the organization. In content, you need creative people that can transform detailed messaging into easily understood visual and textual elements. In advertising, you need smart math skills with the discipline to execute. In conversations, you need people that understand how to relate to others using new means of communication like social media. In analytics, you need people that took Stats 450 for the easy A and that can communicate with the strategic thinkers, creatives, advertisers, and customer service.


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Suspect-to-Evangelist-Pyramid

The Marketing Ecosystem

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“A referral happens when the evangelist’s friend has a need that the evangelist believes that your product or service will service their friend’s need.”

This article might not be for you!

If your business model leans more towards the transactional side, clients and evangelists are not in your model and all your resources should be focused on the prospect to customer action. If your business model is transactional, this article does not fit your business. Transactional businesses normally have a product or service that is only sold once. Things like debt relief or diet pills lean toward this model.

A good marketing ecosystem moves people or businesses through various stages of relationship with the business. People flow in both directions based on the on-going experience they have with the business. The job of a marketer is to move the most people in a positive direction in the flow. While often represented as a pyramid, the shape of the data is actually more like the form above. It has a steep angle as it moves up the statuses with a bubble at the end in the most mature companies. Time is like gravity in this process as the status tends to drop if the relationship is not constantly refreshed.

Many business executives will tell you that most of their business comes from referrals. The challenge is that the executive is only looking at one point along the path and typically that is when the order is registered and the prospect becomes a customer. If you follow this farther back, you will find that all business ultimately came from prospects or suspects.

Please note that nowhere in that statement is there anything about the vendor (that’s you) in the process. That’s because while you have to earn the referral, you do not cause the event. It is the need of the friend that starts the process. There are things you can do to influence that but it is very difficult to create need.

It’s about moving people through the communication system

Each stage in the process can be thought of as a segment classification with a barrier to the next class. That barrier is the customer experience and that is within your control. So let’s take this problem apart and discuss the barrier between each classification.

Suspects – People that might do business with you

The first class, and by far the largest, are the suspects. These are people that we suspect could do business with us but so far that’s it. Many times, the problem with this class is the size and the related expense of communicating with that class. The first thing a business has to consider is do they have the budget they need to talk to this class. If they do, the primary barrier to being a prospect is awareness of the product or service. This is especially difficult when you are dealing with a new innovation where people are not aware of the problem or the product. With a well-defined product or service, creating awareness is largely an educational process to a very large group of people. As awareness becomes interest, the person morphs from a suspect to a prospect. So this barrier is the combination of awareness and interest.

Prospects – People who have some indication they might do business with you

Prospects are created by data that indicates that the person is more likely to be a good fit for your product or service.  Creating prospects using data is quick and easy but moving them from prospects to customers is not. This is because as a marketer, you need to transform the qualification of interest into desire and ultimately action. This is where most businesses spend the majority of their marketing resources and their measurement of choice is the ever popular first sale.

Leads aka Sales Pipeline – People that have proactively indicated an interest in your product or service

A prospect or suspect that has proactively reached out to the business is a lead for the time period that it is being followed up on by the sales team. The proactive outreach normally takes the form of a sales lead form completion, phone call inquiry, or other valued event. If the lead goes cold, then the person returns to be a prospect with special history.

The subsystem of leads is often called the “Sales Pipeline” but our position is that the pipeline runs from suspect to evangelist.  Thinking only of this one section of the system results in a myopic view of the process. Since this status starts with expression of interest and ends with a sale, it is an area of focus for many plans but it is no more or less important than the management of the other stages.

Customers – People that have done business with you within one business cycle

Customers happen when a suspect or prospect purchases a product or service. Sounds simple enough but trust me when I tell you it only looks simple.  A customer is not a lifetime status and the customer can easily drop back to being a prospect if they fail to reorder when expected. This is also the time when many organizations stop marketing and that is a huge mistake. The other big mistake made with this classification is thinking of customer as a permanent status. While you can establish any rule you want for the classification, the typical customer status should only hold until the next expected purchase and this is driven by the normal sales cycle of the product or service. If you are not aging the customers out of this status, then you will not see what is truly happening in the business.

Clients – Customers who will continue to do business with you even if you do something wrong

Clients are someone who will continue to do business with you even when you are not the low cost provider. They will also forgive you when you do something stupid because they trust you. Moving a customer to a client requires that you build trust and loyalty.  Normally this transformation happens over time and can be difficult to observe. Most businesses that measure this do so a few times a year.

Evangelists aka Brand Advocates – Customers, Clients, or trusted advisers that recommend your business when their friend has a need

Evangelists are the very lofty goal of the ecosystem but they are exceptionally difficult to create because it requires a client with a specific set of social skills and experiences. I subscribe to the concept of the social connector as described in the book, Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. In every social network, there are people that value the process of connecting others and it is this trait that turns a client into an evangelist. To some degree, there are clues in social media as to who these people might be but there are also lots of posers. The data you want to look at is their connection level and the activity of those connections. Evangelists are a temporary status and can change from product to product. This means that an Evangelist for product A may be a silent client for product B. Mavens (trusted expert) can also become Evangelists if the need of the person is a very specific product. These evangelists are driven by their desire to pass technical information.

It is important to note that not all evangelists are customers or clients. It is entirely possible to create an evangelist that is a trusted adviser to the prospect. Common examples of this are CPA’s or Attorneys that often recommend items to their clients when they see a need. In some cases, campaigns with the goal of communicating to potential evangelist segments make good business sense.

Negative Flow

Referrals can be positive or negative based on the experience they are communicating.  Negative flow can happen when you create an evangelist with a negative experience and they distribute that. Many studies show that the typical negative experience will get distributed to 12 people, while a positive experience will reach one. This is not what you want to hear but referrals do work both ways. If the person involved is an evangelist, great care should be taken.

Time is Like Gravity

Time pulls the person to lower levels within the classification. An example of this is a customer that does not repurchase and drops back to prospect status.  The reason this is important to understand is that while we might want to earn a level and stay there, that is not how it works.

Paying for Referrals

One common idea about referrals is to pay for more of them. This idea almost never works but it often looks like it does. The reason it can look like it works is that when the referral happens and an incentive is available, it is often claimed. It is likely that an incentive to some customers will result in an action but you have to ask yourself how powerful the referral will be if it was motivated by money. Are you in fact paying for what will happen naturally? I would contend that in many cases, paying for referrals does not create a referral but they do create a marketplace for them.

Moving People through the System

From ToHow
SuspectProspectActive: Create awareness that serves a want or need
Passive: Find data that indicates a product want or need fit
ProspectCustomerCreate desire to service a want or need
CustomerClientCreate a trust relationship
ClientEvangelistHave a trust relationship with social connector and get lucky enough that they become aware of a friend’s want or need that is served by your product or service
Customer Client EvangelistProspectMore than one business cycle without a business interaction.

In the marketing plan for the business, each of these areas needs a campaign to serve these movements.

Glossary:

The Market: Everyone
Suspects: Someone who could do business with you
Prospects: Someone who has demonstrated some interest in your product/service
Customers: Someone who has purchased your product or service
Clients: A customer that will continue to do business even if you do something wrong
Evangelist: A person that tells others about you. Can be a customer, client, or other trusted adviser. This is also known as a Brand Advocate in some circles.
Mavens: a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others
Social Connectors: people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions


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Color Wheel

Roundtables as a Business Strategy

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Ten years ago I started a project in partnership with 2 other businesses and 3 non-profit trade associations to form a Regional CEO Roundtable program in the local area. Today this program serves 5 groups of CEO’s and approximately 60 CEO’s that meet monthly to share ideas and experiences with the other members. The value of this program comes from the relationships and understanding of a diverse set of opinions. I belong to all 5 of these groups and I find them to be extremely valuable to my business. There is no doubt in my mind that diversity creates organizational strength and these groups create a level of diversity that simply is impossible in a single business.

We are now preparing to take this concept to the Creative Design area of our business by building a local Designer’s Roundtable. This will be a group of intermediate to advanced designers that we can exchange ideas with in a confidential peer to peer network. Our goal is to put together 10-12 designers that can meet monthly in a confidential group and share best practices. Having done this with the CEO Roundtables many times I know that getting to the trust level takes time to build. In new CEO Roundtables I have found that trust relationships takes 12-18 months before people become comfortable with the group and the discussion becomes more honest and direct.  What happens is in the early meetings everything is good and they only talk about the things that worked well but as the group matures the failures start to be debated and the real relationships in the group start to form.

I have been a business owner since 1988 and I was first introduced to the Roundtable concept in Milwaukee where the program was part of the regional chamber of commerce. When I first moved to the California Central Coast in 1996 the first thing I did was join the Chamber and ask how to sign up for the CEO Roundtable.  The silence to that question was deafening and it would take almost a decade to fix that.

Roundtables are not the product of a person or even a company. They are a product of a business community and that requires partnerships be built.  In our case the partnerships that had to be created included a couple of leading business. In our case the commercial part of the partnership came from a HR Services Company, Your People Professionals, and a CPA firm, Barbich Longcrier Hooper and King. This had to be partnered with business organizations that included Softec (Technology Trade Association), the EVC (County Economic Development Group), and the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce. With that partnership it was finally possible to pull together the first 3 groups and stand the program up in the community.

These groups have matured over the year with many strong relationships being developed between different members. I have seen these relationships create value for members many times and the value is typically an understanding of the diverse perspectives that members are exposed to. There have also been cases of members doing business with each other although that is typically kept outside the roundtables.

In a small business we often become consumed by our own little world and we fail to understand the bigger world view. The roundtables can help moderate that challenge and stop ideas from being isolated in a single business.


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3 Building Blocks of SEO

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To understand any technology you have to first be aware of its foundation and SEO is no exception to that. SEO is based on the search engine’s evaluation of the page’s trust & authority and the keyword match. We believe that the fundamental parts of this evaluation consist of:

    SEO-Impossible-Letters

  1. What you say about yourself
  2. What others say about you
  3. Election Results

Each of these building blocks gets progressively more important as you reach toward the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Nobody knows exactly how much weight goes to each level but our guess is that each level is about twice as important as the item before it.

1. What You Say About Yourself

This level is driven by the content on your website and while it is a small percentage of the total score it is absolutely essential because this sets up the first phase of eligibility. If your page fails eligibility then the rest of the optimization is a complete waste of time. Eligibility is a simple Boolean test so you either are or are not. The search query either matches your keywords or not. When you conduct a search on Google one thing it shows is an estimate of how many pages are eligible for the search.

After eligibility comes the scoring of the on-page content and this gets into what most people consider page optimization. The most critical items here are the support for the keyword and its location and density on the page. This is not rocket science but it can certainly get complex.

Again, nobody knows exactly how every aspect of document scoring happens but if our guess of each stage being twice as important as the one before it then on-page optimization is only about 11% of the score but it is a critical 11%.

2. What Others Say About You

Just like in the real world “What others say about you” is more important than “What you say about yourself.” On the internet the way they talk about you is with links that point back to your site and the infamous back-links. Not all back-links are created equal so you have to concern yourself with the link quality and quantity. There is no doubt that Google weighs links differently when they come from different sources and the essence of this comes from the original page rank formula developed by the founders of Google when they were PhD students at Stanford University. The Google Page Rank formula is documented at Stanford University and while I am sure it has evolved since that paper was written, the core of the formula is still very much a part of the SERP results of today.

Here is the formula:

We assume page A has pages T1…Tn which point to it (i.e., are citations). The parameter d is a damping factor which can be set between 0 and 1. We usually set d to 0.85. There are more details about d in the next section. Also C(A) is defined as the number of links going out of page A. The PageRank of a page A is given as follows:

PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))

Source: http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html

Now let me translate this for you. Page rank is driven by links in and links out. The inbound links increase the page rank of the page and it passes its rank to the location that it points to. If the page has lots of inbound links then an outbound link from that source is worth that score divided by the number of out bound links.

3. Election Results

There is no doubt that Google values votes from users. A user ‘votes’ when they click on your listing and act as a satisfied search, meaning they don’t immediately leave the page to return to the SERP to find what they were looking for. This is commonly called CTR an acronym for “Click-Through Rate.” We have discovered over the years that the AdWords Quality Score and the pages’ SEO score are largely the same thing. In AdWords, most experts believe that the CTR is about 65% of the Quality Score. The reason I believe this is true is because of a presentation by Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian. In this video he graphically represents the CTR weight and clearly states that it is the largest factor. I contend that Google gives the same weight on the organic results.

One reason we like to work on accounts that use AdWords is that it gives us the Quality Score, which we believe is the same as the organic score. Programmers love to reuse code and I am certain that Google uses much of the same code in AdWords Quality Score that they do on the Organic Page Score.

Two elements that greatly affect the CTR are the title link and the snippet that appear on the SERP. Those are the only clues to the user about what they are ‘voting’ for, or what information they will see when they click the link. This is why we stress the importance of carefully writing these two items. The vote measurement is much smarter than most think and we know Google tracks some items. For example, if a visitor clicks on your listing but then returns quickly to Google and searches the same thing that is not a good thing for you. The reason this is a problem is that Google will see that as an unsatisfied search.

The key elements to the part of the SEO puzzle is the title, snippet, and the content they land on. If you concern yourself with the quality of the visitors experience you can win this game.

Summary

What you will find with SEO is that if you work very hard on creating a great web experience for your visitors the optimization will take care of itself. A website with a great experience gets talked about and pointed to and that wins the SEO game.


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